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Photographer faces Bieber charges

A paparazzo photographer faces criminal charges in connection with a high-speed chase of Justin Bieber, marking the first use of a new US law designed to clamp down on the reckless pursuit of celebrities.

Los Angeles City Attorney's office filed four misdemeanour charges against Paul Raef, 30, including reckless driving with the intent to capture pictures for commercial gain, reckless driving, failure to obey a peace officer and following another vehicle too closely.

Bieber pulled over for police and was given a speeding ticket.

Paparazzi pursuit of celebrities has long been identified as a risk in Los Angeles.

Lawyer Harland Braun, who has defended cases involving paparazzi and has had to fend off photographers chasing his celebrity clients, said: "It's Hollywood. There are a huge number of celebrities and there's a lot of money paid for these pictures. Unfortunately, innocent people get caught up in these chases. I think the law is a good thing."

City attorney spokesman Frank Mateljan said the Raef case meets all the criteria spelled out in the law, which has not been used before. He added: "We're very confident in our case."

But a leading First Amendment lawyer said the California law is likely to be challenged vigorously. Douglas Mirell said the statute enacted nearly two years ago seeks to punish members of the press by a different standard than the average person.

"A fan doing the same thing, trying to get a glimpse of Bieber or taking a photo for their personal photo album might be engaged in the same egregious conduct. But it would fall outside the statute because they were not doing it for a commercial purpose," Mr Mirell said.

The charges stem from a July 6 incident in which Los Angeles councillor Dennis Zine, a former police officer, and three other motorists called emergency number 911 to report a high-speed chase along the 101 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley. Officers saw six vehicles pursuing a silver Fisker Karma, a high-end sports car driven by Bieber.

Raef's Toyota was reportedly travelling at speeds over 80mph, weaving across all lanes of the motorway and on the shoulder, forcing its way into lanes where there was little room to merge safely. Bieber pulled over when officers signalled him to do so, but Raef's vehicle did not stop.

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